These small things can make a big impact
Whether you live in the farthest suburb or in the heart of downtown, how you move around your city shapes your social interactions, your job, and even your family dynamics. Peruse the news, however, and you’ll find a laundry list of transportation nightmares: subway systems in a state of emergency, declining ridership in our biggest metro areas, and unreliable bus systems plaguing commuters.
What’s a transit-loving urbanite to do? In an effort to parse through the doom and gloom—and in honor of Curbed’s first-ever Transportation Week—we want to share 101 smart transportation solutions that can make our cities better.
We’ve looked to cities all around the world for inspiration and asked some of our favorite urban thinkers for their best tips on how to fix the thorniest transportation problems. Some proposals may seem idealistic, while others might surprise you, but all 101 suggestions will push our communities to design, implement, and use better transit. We hope this serves as a roadmap for what you can do as an individual and what our cities can aspire to—and that you’ll contribute your thoughts in the comments.
What You Can Do
1. Sign up for an autonomous-vehicle pilot program. Okay, there’s really only one that we know of—Waymo’s program in Phoenix—but shared, driverless cars are the future of sustainable, low-emission transportation. Become an advocate for AVs to help move this technology forward.
2. Tell your city to go car-free. What sounds like an impossible dream could be achieved by cities like Oslo in a few years. Want an example that’s closer to home? Get inspired by the way Vancouver has reduced reliance on cars by half.
3. Ride a bike—but not for the reason you’d expect. “Culturally, the humble bicycle has the potential to bring about social and structural change by strengthening social ties through slow speeds and human-scale urbanism. In much the same way as women's liberation was based on two-wheeled independence in the late 20th century, I believe it is the change we need once again to (re)make our cities not only healthier, but also more humane for everyone.” —Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman, urban anthropologist and founder of the Women Led Cities Initiative
4. Ride the bus. Transit ridership is down in almost every major U.S. city, which makes it harder to justify funding for more lines. Boost your city’s transportation future across the board by riding the bus, and be on the lookout for self-driving technology that just might save it.
5. Say yes to transportation initiatives. Improving transit costs money, so the next time there is a transit-focused ballot measure in your city, vote yes. You’ll be in good company: In the November 2016 elections, cities voted yes on billions of dollars worth of transportation improvements.
6. Download a transit app. Transportation planning apps like Citymapper and Transitnot only offer detailed trip-planning services and real-time arrival information, but also help local transit agencies improve service. To create more efficient routes, give your city the data it needs.
7. Try a folding bicycle. These compact transformers let you ride a bus or train easily, and then unfold into a bike that’s perfect for traveling that last mile.
8. Use a water taxi or ferry. Many of our biggest cities are located next to water, and water taxis and ferries can be an efficient and enjoyable means of transit. They are also prepping to go high tech: In Amsterdam and Boston, autonomous watercraft could soon move people and goods around the city. The first unmanned ships may be in operation within three years.
9. Stop for pedestrians. Even in states where it’s the law, cars continually ignore pedestrians in crosswalks. Give people the right of way and show your support for pedestrian-centric cities.
10. Paddle to work. Bike shares and ride-hailing apps have become commonplace. But paddling to work is another thing entirely. A recently announced kayak-share concept in Minneapolis would let commuters ride the Mississippi, traveling between two stations on the mighty river. Since the boat docks would be connected to the city bike-share system, it suggests a future where both modes of transportation could be part of your morning ride to work.
11. Become a member of your city’s bike-share program. Shifting just a few trips per week from a car to a bike could help the U.S. reduce emissions enough to achieve the Paris goals. Support one of the dozens of successful bike-share systems popping up all over the country by buying an annual membership to help keep the system humming. Also be on the lookout for new private bike shares, like this one in Seattle.
12. Stop making it about “those people” or “the other.” “Treat people who bike and walk like people. Rather than seeing them as the other, remember that they have families, people they love, and things they contribute to in their lives. We also have to stop centering privileged voices and experiences. Whether it’s out of necessity or a lifestyle choice, seeing and treating those who walk and bike as people is both innovative and simple to do—give it a try.” —Tamika L. Butler, consultant and LA Neighborhood Land Trust executive director
13. Start walking. Is there any single action that’s better for your mind, your body, and your planet?
14. Try commuting with an electric bike. Research shows that e-bikes are 10 to 20 times more energy-efficient than a car, and frankly, an e-bike is just plain fun to ride. Folding e-bikes like this one can give you a sweat-free, less stressful commute and get you out of your car, the fastest-growing contributor to greenhouse gases in our country.
15. Obey traffic laws. Cars that swerve into bike lanes or don’t watch out for two-wheeled commuters definitely deserve to be called out and ticketed. Bikers who ignore rules don’t help the cause for better bike lanes and better enforcement. Pedestrians should pay attention while crossing busy streets. Everyone: Follow the rules of the road.
16. Organize a local car-free day. Every September 22 cities around the world participate in a global Car-Free Day, showcasing the possibilities of a more progressive commute and the advantages of walkable streets and biking infrastructure. It’s not too late to join the annual celebration this year—leave your car at work and walk home!—then start planning for 2017.
17. Remake an underpass into an art space. Los Angeles has hundreds of pedestrian underpasses originally built to help students get across busy streets. But most of the underpasses have been sealed off to discourage illegal activities. In the Cypress Park neighborhood, coffee shop owner Yancey Quinones fought to reopen a nearby tunnel and fill it with art. The monthly openings spill out into the streets, activating the entire block. Check out other creative underpasses, right this way.
18. Start a carpool. In 2014, over 76 percent of commuters in the United States drove to work alone, most often in their personal vehicle. Carpools save money on gas, reduce your carbon footprint, let you work during the drive, and get you access to specially designated carpool lanes reserved for high-occupancy vehicles.
19. Buy a tiny car. If you can get over the aesthetic—we think they are kind of cute—try out a tiny car. They take up less road space, are easier to park, get better gas mileage, and many are electric.
20. Ride a bike to save the planet. Yes, riding a bike really can save the world. According to a 2015 study by the University of California at Davis, if 14 percent of all urban trips worldwide were taken on bicycle, the planet would reduce emissions dramatically enough to achieve the Paris climate goals. That seems especially feasible when you consider that half of all urban trips are a very bikeable six miles or fewer.
21. Use car sharing. New services like Car2go and Zipcar give you the convenience of having a car without the added costs—and negative environmental impacts—of car ownership. Users can pay to drive cars when they need them by the minute, hour, or day. Studies have shown that access to shared cars takes vehicles off of roads, eases parking congestion, and can have a ripple effect of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and gas use. Want to go the extra mile? Opt for an electric car sharing service.
22. Cycle to new parts of your city. Slow Roll, a community bike-ride series that started in Detroit, gathers riders to interact and explore new parts of the city, promoting riding in new neighborhoods, as well as expansions of bike lanes and bike-share systems into underserved areas.
23. Slow down. Driving just 5 mph slower might save someone’s life. A famous 2011 AAA study looked at 422 crashes involving pedestrians and determined that a person is twice as likely to die if he or she is struck by a car traveling at 30 mph instead of 25 mph. Better yet, petition your city to implement a “20 is plenty” zone for dense urban areas—98 percent of pedestrians hit at that rate of speed will live.
24. Give directions to your entire city. With a mission to get more “feet on the street,” the Walk Your City project promotes more conversational, community-oriented wayfinding. Community groups can visit the site, create a set of custom signs (with messages such as “It’s a two-minute walk to the library”), and get them shipped and ready to install. The concept has already played out in cities such as Mount Hope, West Virginia, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
25. Opt for a cargo bike. Want to ride your bike more but don’t know how to haul the kids, the groceries, and (figuratively) the kitchen sink? With many different styles and price points, a cargo bike can get the whole crew where you need to be without the soul-crushing battle of putting a 2-year-old in a car seat.
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Image: The cable car Metrocable improved mobility in the slums, Medellín, Colombia. 2012 © UN-Habitat / A.Padrós
This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.